Despite the various styles, adopted in different periods of work, or the goals set to be achieved by his art, Umberto Boccioni approached his art with the extreme passion and zeal that endow his works with a profoundly emotive sensation. Umberto Boccioni was born in Reggio Calabria but his family traveled a lot and he visited many Italian cities where he lived for short periods. Of all Italian cities Milan, with its busy streets and roving crowds, appealed to Boccioni the most.
Though, at the same time, the urban turmoil gave rise to the pathos of isolation and frustration suggested in a number of Boccioni’s paintings. Introspective, restless and ambitious Boccioni went through several stages of development of his artistic visions. The romantic melancholy expressed in his early little drawing remained always in the background to conflict with his desire for action and social protest shown in the lively drawing of a crowd. Boccioni’s meeting with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1910 led him to make a more decisive break from traditional models.
Futurism, which was proclaimed as a literary movement in February 1909, was now reborn as a movement in painting. This violent declaration against the dead wood of the past embedded in Italian art was followed by a further proclamation on 11 April 1910, Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, illustrating the Futurist idea: to make the dynamic sensation of the modern age live in paintings, to involve the spectators by drawing them inside the picture.
Futurism painting is a fascinating example of how seemingly unconscious pictorial conventions can take on larger than life social and political agendas. The Futurists were for the most part a collection of Modernist Italian painters who saw the destruction of the old and the glorification of the new as the hallmarks of a truly modern artist. The Futurist Technical Manifesto of 1910 consisted of nine declarations and additional four demands.
In it, they declared, among other things, that all forms of limitation should be despised and all forms of innovation glorified (declaration number 1), that it was essential to rebel against the notions of good taste and harmony (number 2), that art critics were useless (number 3), and that the title madman should be looked upon as a badge of honor (number 5) (Boccioni et al. ) Perhaps the most talented futurist artist to emerge from the group was Umberto Boccioni, whose work and interests spanned both painting and sculpture.
The ferocity of his Futurism, with its exaltation of speed and dynamism, is addressed to his own artistic personality, sentimental, moved by women in muslin dresses in soft interiors. His struggle to become the prophet of a Futuristic future was in part a struggle against his own artistic inclination, which was to be a dandy of late Impressionist style. In 1902 Boccioni left Rome to study the Impressionists in Paris; later, in 1904, he settled for some months in Russia with a family he had known in France. Through a trip to France in the autumn of 1911 Boccioni had become familiar with Cubist techniques.
This new experience helped him to achieve a more autonomous artistic language in which the fragmentation of color was combined with a deeper perception of space. With time Boccioni was evolving an image of staggering physical power, and explored different means of expression. In his The City Rises of 1910-11 (Fig. 1), a painting of intense ambitiousness, done just at the threshold of his breakthrough into Futurism, it is quite apparent that he was indebted to Cubist inventions for the depiction of a fractured space and the breaking down of forms across the picture plane.
But to this he adds something the Cubists had noticeably shied away from: color – the kind which illuminated and even decomposed forms in Impressionist painting with its resonance and brilliance. According to the art critic, Rosenblum, Boccioni still prolifically utilizes here a modified Impressionist technique whose atomizing effect on mass permits the forceful symbols of horse and manpower to slip out of their skins in a blur of moving light (Rosenblum, 1996). Figure 1 Umberto Boccioni
The City Rises, 1910-11 Oil on canvas 6 ft 6 1/2 ins x 9 ft 10 1/2 ins Museum of Modern Art, New York In this work, painted in a half-naturalistic style and made up of dots and whirling strokes of vibrant color, forms, light and color melt into frenzy of simultaneous activities, each actively pursuing the other for clarity and visual authority. The result is something like visual noise, where each gesture or diminished form takes on the personality of a boisterous shout in a turbulent crowd.
The artist attempts to express not merely people moving but movement itself and the collective emotion of the crowd. The relentless activity of The City Rises typified the one of the sides of Boccioni’s character where the brooding, emotional qualities of an artist were not easily suppressed. In the City Rises against the Milanese urban background of smoking chimneys, scaffolding, a streetcar, and a locomotive, enormous draft horses tug at their harnesses, while street workers attempt to direct the animals’ explosive strength.
Robert Rosenblum in the book Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art describes pictorial means of “realizing this veneration of titanic energies and industrial activity” utilized in the painting as anachronistic and focuses on “the prominent role given to horse power” as on a symbol of that anachronism (Rosenblum, 1996, 180). Yet it appears that radical Boccioni’s treatment of forms within this Cubist space was actually much more conservative than that of his less political friends Picasso and Braque, and he never completely let go of the descriptive character of his work.
On the other hand, Boccioni was at some pains to distinguish his movement from that of Cubism. As he saw it, the Cubists were merely projecting as simultaneous onto the plane of the canvas the sequence of aspects from which the object was viewed, whereas the planes of Futurism emanate from the dynamic interior of desolidified objects (Antliff, 2000, 722). When war was declared, he, like many of his Futurist comrades, immediately enlisted and joined the Lombard Cyclists Brigade.
After short pause he returned to military service and shortly after was accidentally thrown from his horse during the cavalry training exercise and died following day, aged 33 (Osborn, 2001). It is so ironic that a Futurist should have met his death by being thrown from a horse, when his propagating of speed and dynamism would have recommended a more suitable vehicle, like an automobile or an airplane. Even more ironic seems the fact that the horse was a kind of leitmotiv of Boccioni’s art.
In The City Rises immense flamboyant horses energize the foreground while some rather poky buildings rise in the background. It is with reference to the horse that Boccioni explains the principles of Futurism. “A running horse does not have four legs,” he writes in Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, “It has twenty, and their movements are triangular. ” (Boccioni et al. ) And perhaps the greatest irony of all was the artist’s welcome embrace of the First World War as a “cleansing” of culture. However, with the horrors of the First World War, Futurism died too.
Works Cited Antliff, Mark. “The Fourth Dimension and Futurism: A Politicized Space. ” The Art Bulletin v. 82 no. 4 (2000): 720-33. Boccioni, Umberto, et al. Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. 1910 http://www. unknown. nu/futurism/techpaint. html (accessed April 12, 2007) Osborn, Bob. “The Pre-Futurist Years. ” Futurism and the Futurists. http://futurism. org. uk/boccioni/boccframes. htm (accessed February 25, 2007) Rosenblum, Robert. Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1966 Taylor, Joshua C. Boccioni. New York: Double & Company, Inc, 1961.
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